There and Back! The Elephant Sanctuary Continued.

I did it and I’m back. As much as I had every intention on writing a daily blog, I didn’t. Each time I sat down to do it, I simply couldn’t. I just couldn’t find the words to justifiably describe my overall experience.  It was remarkable.  It was incredibly moving.  But, neither word feels powerful enough to fairly describe the experience.  It was for certain, an absolute highlight of my life.

So instead of trying to describe my experience of the elephant sanctuary with lots of words, I will include lots of photos and simply provide descriptions. And, I will hope that “a picture really is worth a thousand words”.

It was a reeeeaaallly long trip.  So, I was a “bit” tired and dirty upon arrival to Chiang Mai.  As many of my friends know, I don’t fly well.  But, I did fine, very little crying.

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Arriving to the hotel in Chiang Mai.  A perfect entrance based on the reason for my trip…

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I had a couple of nights in Chiang Mai before heading up to the sanctuary.

IMG_0054The fist night, a traditional Thai dinner with an absolutely lovely woman, Hilarie.  We were seated next to each other on the flights from SFO so basically traveled together the entire trip.  Hilarie was headed to Thailand to teach English.  We were both so fortunate to begin our adventures in each others company.

 

Besides some great shopping at the night markets, I spotted some “interesting” things…

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Yes, those are tanks of fish “nibbling” on human flesh (I gagged a little)…

 

 

 

 

 

After being picked up at the hotel Monday morning, we (myself and other Volunteers) head up north of Chiang Mai to the elephant sanctuary.

I love this road sign…

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IMG_0166Pulling into the Sanctuary, I was surprised by how much it had grown.  There were 9 elephants when we visited the sanctuary back in 2004. There are now, 70 (yes, seventy) elephants. Not to mention the numerous water buffalo, cows, God only knows how many cats, and a separate shelter area that houses 450+ dogs.  Unbelievable.

Nirvana…

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Similarly, there were about 10 volunteers for the week back in 2004.  There were now 80!

Upon arrival, we received an orientation. This is Lek, the woman who started the sanctuary many years ago.  She was raised in a local village and became involved with elephants at a young age.  Undoubtedly, she is an Angel among us…

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We were assigned into groups of about 20 and met our Guides who assisted us all week with the daily chores…IMG_0627IMG_0510

IMG_1173We were then assigned our rooms.  I had anticipated one, maybe two roommates.  There were five of us, from very different places. My Lovely lovely Roomies; Yuko, Amy, Helen, and Sharon…

 

 

 

Fortunately, my end of the room had an extra bed.  Yuko and I were able to share the bed frame to set our things on.  This felt like a luxury since there were no shelves, table tops, hooks, etc.  We moved the mattress of the bed to the other side of the room so our roomies also had a space to put things on.

Pictures of; a portion of the room, my feet once I was all secure under the mosquito net, and a typical night time shot of all of us in the room…

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Yeah, mosquito nets were pretty important…

 

 

The bathroom situation: we had our own bathroom and shower however, many of us chose to use the showers down the road a bit. Better water pressure and more privacy.

So, the days went as follows;  breakfast at 7AM, group meeting for chore assignment at 8AM, morning chore up until about lunch which started at 11:30AM, afternoon chore at 1PM, and typically a little free time in the late afternoon before dinner which was served at 6PM.

A few pictures of down time and meal times…

And, every morning before our 8:00AM meeting, Sabrina (the main manager at the dog shelter) would be giving Memphis (one of the dogs allowed to roam) a necessary IV…IMG_0122

Sweet sweet Memphis, always around, always welcoming…

Our very first morning chore was cleaning up elephant poop, aka, “Ele Poo”.  We walked the property and cleaned up while small tractors followed…

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Numerous quick showers and change of clothing were necessary  as the daily temperatures were 104-105f with lows of 89f. Reeeeeally HOT.

Surprisingly, “Ele Poo” turned out to be my favorite chore since we had so much contact with the animals…

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They were just out and about…

 

Definitely “amongst” us while we worked. Sometimes a little too close…

It was also a great time to get to know each other…

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Ummm, did I mention the SIX DAY OLD BABY BOY??!  He and his Mom are in their shelter until he’s a bit older and safer to roam free…

He’s attempting to take a nap…

Please NEVER EVER ride an elephant or partake in any entertainment that involves elephants. Unless, of course, you’re at a sanctuary where they live free. You would be absolutely horrified (as I was) by the barbaric and cruel things done to elephants in order to make them cooperate. They are beaten, starved, and worked to death, literally.   Please share this information with people and certainly anyone traveling to a place where elephants live. Thank you!  

Because all of the elephants were rescues, many are injured. Some, blind from the lights of circuses, some with broken legs or displaced hips from logging, some with leg and foot injuries from land mines, and others with severe emotional damage from what they have endured…

The property is filled with both large and small animals…

Everyone, including the workers, where always loving up on the animals…

Other chores included unloading food for the elephants. Tons of food, literally…

Making rice, banana, and soft grain balls for the older elephants…

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Some chores where a bit more challenging than others.  Truck loads of corn stalks were needed every day as part of the elephants diet.  The sanctuary has partnerships with some of the local farmers in the area. So, everyday a truck drives to a corn field that’s ready to be cut (“ready” being the actual corn has been pulled from the stalk).  The stalks weren’t always ready so we’d have to drive to the next farmer.  Off to find some ready corn stalks.  It was SOOO hot…

An hour later, we find a farmer with ready corn stalks…

And, were given machetes…  

Cutting down the stalks…

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Carrying them back up to the truck, which was not so close…IMG_0745

And, filling up the truck…IMG_0297

Stopping for very necessary water brakes.  The travel pants I resisted bringing were perfect, zippering off at the knee to turn into shorts…

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Every afternoon volunteers could meet at the river to bathe the elephants, if chores were finished, that is…

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Did I mention there was little to no wifi?  I was fortunate to get a text to Elke when I first arrived but in general wifi was very rare.  So, all of us were on “high alert” for successful wifi connection.  Every time I got a “ding” sound from my phone, we would stop, look at each other,  and scramble to access the wifi.  Most often, the “ding” was simply a result of this…  VSqKh

When we had some “down time” in the afternoon we’d often walk down to the dog shelter to help out, i.e., walk or bathe the dogs…

I kept seeing this poster…IMG_0341

And then, this kept happening…

The dog, Suvi Nom, is arriving to SFO on May 30th.  And, there’s a whole story about what I did and what I didn’t do. Not having been completely honest, I presented it to Elke as more of a “sponsorship” when it was actually more of an “adoption”.Scared-Face

We are working through it.

 

 

I was sad to leave.  And, I was happy to be coming home.

Still, I don’t think even the pictures do justice to my experience but at least they capture moments…

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Lastly, and  most importantly, my sincere gratitude and heartfelt appreciation for Lek and all she does for the animals in our world.  A beautiful soul…IMG_0713 copy

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9 comments

  1. OMG…I’m so moved and completely in awe of your journey! You are so blessed to have been there and to have shrared this with so many amazing people! Glad your he and can’t wait to hear more about the dog!

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  2. Wow, looks like an amazing experience. Looking forward to meeting Suvi nom (at least you didn’t adopt an elephant. LOL)

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  3. Sounds and seems just so amazing.. I love all the pictures. It really shows your trip to Chang Mai was filled with love♡ Such great experience to share!! Can’t wait to meet your new family 🙂

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  4. Love your entries AND the pictures! You gave me a great sense of your adventures in Thailand. Please bring your new doggie down to meet our old doggie soon. 🙂

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  5. oh, this is so lovely! thanxx fr sharing! and congrats on the new baby!! at least you didnt bring an elephant home – or rather – it would have been cool of you did but that dog looks pretty sweet too!! LOVE you two!! xoxo

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